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The Business of persistent links


Academic librarians are unhappy that some of the UK’s largest university business schools are being asked to pay extra to be allowed to link to articles published in a key journal in their field.

Harvard Business Review (issn:0017-8012), published by HBP (Harvard Business Press), has long been available as part of the EBSCOhost Business Source suite of databases.

However, in an email to the chair of the BBSLG (British Business Schools Librarians Group), EBSCO outlined that, as a vendor of HBP’s content, they are obliged to disable persistent linking to Harvard Business Review, at the publisher’s request.

According to EBSCO, the terms & conditions of their supply of HBP content have always included a clause limiting use of the journal to individual, private study, and explicitly prohibiting linking from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) for teaching purposes.

Three libraries have already had their facility to create persistent links removed, according to the BBSLG, who have written a letter of complaint to EBSCO.

A flyer circulated by EBSCO ‘invites’ individual BBSLG member-libraries to upgrade their EBSCOhost Business Source subscriptions to a level which would “continue to allow [the institution] to persistent link to HBR articles for an additional annual fee“: each institution’s fee being calculated on past use of the journal and their business-school student numbers.

For one, Russell Group, UK university, EBSCO have demanded £15,000 in order that the institution be allowed to go on creating persistent links for use in teaching.

According to correspondence between EBSCO and the BBSLG, Harvard Business Press are concerned that unauthorised persistent-linking from VLEs to EBSCOhost has harmed HBP’s separate provision of course packs for HEIs on a commercial basis. They cite a “direct quantifiable link between the two which can be clearly demonstrated financially between the diminishing course pack use and persistent linking“.

Should institutions decline the opportunity to pay the additional EBSCOhost fee, EBSCO asks that they inform their users that persistent-linking from a VLE to the HBR is not permitted, and that EBSCO may disable the ability to create such links.

This will not only remove the ability of academic staff to create links from a VLE, but also break any persistent links to the e-journal created by individuals in the course of their own personal study or research.


This is a retrograde step for usability in online scholarly content. Storing, recalling, and broadcasting stable hyperlinks is fundamental to the Web. It is not an add-on or a luxury.

Private, subscription-only environment it may be, but users of EBSCOhost [remembering that this includes fee-paying students] have had the rug pulled from under a basic Web experience. It may currently affect only one journal title, in one database, but this is a dangerous precedent, and one that the library community has a right to question and challenge.


10 Responses to 'The Business of persistent links'

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  1. As one of the libraries who has had their deep-linking removed after refusing to pay, I have been agitating and sending out messages back to EBSCO and to any forum that is prepared to pick this one up as the issues for libraries and individuals are quite, in my view, profound, and it is absolutely critical that this gets out and gets debated in open forums rather than through controlled correspondence between EBSCO and individual libraries.

    At stake is not just the issue of deep-linking as a web feature but more fundamentally it hits on three nerves: whether or not deep-linking is permissible under copyright and under the current terms and conditions of database usage: if it is, then Harvard would seem to have little right to ask for additional payment just because libraries make a cost-sensible decision to use the advantages of that technology,
    regardless of how this affects Harvard’s bottom line. Also the very important and highly contentious question of Harvard assuming a right to dictate (and EBSCO acquiescing) to EBSCO the individual conditions that any single libraries will have imposed on them and which may be called “punitive” : equally EBSCO’s acquiescence to go along with this command – if our contracts of access are with EBSCO, then surely
    they are not with Harvard? Nowhere in my recollection is there an agreement that costs to a content provider may be increased at will for whomever Harvard feels owes them some “loss-of-revenue”
    penalty? And may other publishers then follow suit? of content to EBSCO might dictate

    Lastly, is the most worrying underlying principle of all and one that should be ringing really loud warning bells to all libraries who believe they are free to use new technologies to advance their service deliveries – if Harvard can postulate what they see as a “loss-of revenue” case, on what arguable and measurable basis may we debate the extent of that loss – and for how may years into the future and at what rate? if you consider this point alone it becomes quite ridiculous. Could Harvard for example argue that they think we could have made more use in two years time of course packs and that their revenue COULD
    have gone up and on that basis increase annually the additional deep-linking charge to what they feel MIGHT HAVE been ??

    What exactly could the future look like for any of us if any commercial provider can get away with imposition of a cost on a “perceived” loss of revenue, a cost which, in the absence of any actual transactional data must in effect be an arbitrarily derived figure?

    Chris Flegg

    21 Apr 09 at 9:11 am     

  2. Chris Flegg’s point….Also the very important and highly contentious question of Harvard assuming a right to dictate (and EBSCO acquiescing) to EBSCO the individual conditions that any single libraries will have imposed on them…. reminds me of the Nexis / FT saga. It is very irritating to have to deal with exceptions and clauses in services which we believe we have already paid for. I think aggregators need to take more responsiblity for what they are doing ie ‘aggregating’ and stick up a bit more for us the end user.

    Stuart Smith

    21 Apr 09 at 10:28 am     

  3. How do Harvard know the Universities in question are linking to them?

    Most VLE pages require a login (and so can’t be access by Google etc), and the web logs for the journal (which would show a ‘referer’ – the page the user came from to which the journal) we be on the Ebsco servers.

    Are Ebsco sharing their log files with Harvard?


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